From the Daily Office Lectionary for Friday in the week of Proper 18, Year 1 (Pentecost 15, 2015)
1 Kings 18:38-39 ~ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”
Today is September 11, 2015. Fourteen years ago today, fire fell from the sky and consumed the World Trade Center in New York City as two commercial airliners hijacked by Muslim extremists were intentionally flown directly into the buildings. Two other airplanes were also hijacked; one was flown into the Pentagon and the other crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The hijackers are believed to shouted out “Allah hu akbar!” (“God is great!”), the Islamic equivalent of the shout of the Israelites in today’s lesson.
Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal is immortalized in many works of art. The one which has most moved me is a mural in the dome of a side chapel at the entrance to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor in Palestine. In the mural, Elijah stands serenely watching as a whirlwind of fire consumes the altar of his sacrifice. The colors of the mural are oddly muted, perhaps by time since the painting was made but I believe the dull colors to be the artist’s choice, suggesting that such a conflagration is not a thing to be celebrated. In Elijah’s time, the people of God did not memorialize Elijah’s victory in art; instead, at Elijah’s bidding, they did so by slaughtering the 450 prophets of Baal.
Three thousand years later, we humans haven’t changed much. We continue to memorialize the past with violence in the present. It seems to me that the best way to have memorialized and honored the people who lost their lives in the horrible act of “9/11” would have been to end the conditions which produce terrorists – economic deprivation, lack of education, income and wealth inequality, colonialist oppression, and so forth. Instead, two unnecessary wars, continued support of regimes which promote conflict, and refusal to work across differences with governments we disagree with have made those things worse.
I remember 9/11 and I mark the day, but not with any sense of “patriotism”; rather, there is profound sadness because of what the past fourteen years have done to my country and the world.